If you see the words “plant-based” and think “healthy,” you are certainly not alone. Plant-based diets can offer several health benefits, including reduced risk for type-2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and more. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that plant-based foods are healthful. Here’s what I mean.
Edible plant foods in their whole form—fruit like apples and berries; vegetables like spinach and sweet potato; legumes like beans and peanuts; whole grains like oats and wheat; and healthy fats like olive oil, are all central to a healthy diet. They are unprocessed and rich in nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
But guess what, ultra-processed foods like potato chips, French fries, and salted nuts are plant-based too. And they are certainly not healthy.
These days, you can’t walk a block without seeing an advertisement for a Beyond Meat burger—a plant-based burger that apparently closely mimics beef burgers. Beyond Meat claims that its burgers are healthier than beef burgers. But, quite frankly, at this point in time, that claim is simply not true.
Beyond Meat burgers are ultra-processed foods. They feature close to 20 ingredients, including refined coconut oil, pea protein, and flavoring. They are high in saturated fat and sodium, while being low in fiber, which is one of the biggest benefits of a plant-based diet. Compared to processed beef burgers, there is little difference from a nutritional standpoint.
Ultra-processed foods, no matter what they are made from, are what you want to avoid. Think high-fructose corn syrup or deli meats. In fact, much of the concern around a diet high in meat products comes from processed meats. Many experts suggest lean, unprocessed red meats may not have the health implications once believed.
Moreover, there have been no studies confirming that Beyond Meat is “better for you” than beef burgers. All those claims seem to be based on is the fact that they are not processed meat. And a home-made beef burger would contain a fraction of the sodium and ingredients of any processed burger.
When it comes to plant-based foods, exercise caution. When research indicates the health benefits of plant-based diets, it refers to foods that are unprocessed, or minimally processed. Beyond Meat burgers, like potato chips, do not fit that description. They are snacks and should be treated as such.